CONSTITUTIONAL RECOGNITION FOR INDIGENOUS HEALTH
MURAL HALL, PARLIAMENT HOUSE
THURSDAY, 05 MARCH 2015
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Good morning everyone. I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet and to pay my respects to their elders both past and present.
I’d like to acknowledge Pat Anderson, it’s a pleasure to hear you speak. Tanya, Tim for the work that you’re doing. My parliamentary colleague Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Fiona Nash. I’m also pleased to say that our shadow spokesperson for Indigenous affairs is here, Shayne Neumann and we have our Shadow Assistant Minister for Health Stephen Jones and a range of other Labor MP’s.
I’d also just like to acknowledge Archie Roach, I hadn’t quite realised that you are performing, so I’m going to put back what I was doing because I last heard you live at a Fitzroy Pub and it’s good to hear you again.
It is also wonderful just to see such a diverse - that’s going to send my advisors off their brain, what I just said. It is also wonderful to see such a diverse group of people committed to the same outcomes.
And so many organisations joining their name to this cause. These actions, this commitment, this leadership is vital.
In her first speech as Australian of the Year, 31 years ago, Lowitja O’Donoghue said:
“We are all here now and we have to solve our differences and live together as Australians.”
She was right then and she’s still right now. That spirit, learning and working together, remains the best way forward.
I acknowledge the mixed results in this year’s ‘Closing the Gap’, some progress undoubtedly, but some matters, the progress is not what it should be. I’d also acknowledge the slower-than-desired, even slower-than-expected progress on Recognition, which is I think cause of some legitimate concern, even disappointment in many quarters – it’s a frustration which many of us share.
The Americans talk about the big mo, momentum. I hope that today is an action which can help push some of the momentum of the big mo in the direction which we all believe in and I particularly welcome the range of Minister Nash’s comments in that context.
When today’s papers are full of discussions about Australians living to 150 or living past 100 – the reality is that that could be on another planet for the reality of too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who won’t live to see their 70th birthday.
But I’m optimistic of what people can do when we work together, that we will achieve meaningful Constitutional Recognition, that we will Close the Gap.
Failure is not an option, anything other than success is laziness and a lack of leadership.
Like all of you here, I believe the names of the first members of our Australian family do belong on the Australian birth certificate.
And whatever form of words that we eventually settle on– we can agree that words alone will not be enough, but it is long overdue having the discussion about the words so we can just get on with business. But indeed words alone are not enough.
239 years ago on another continent, delegates from 13 American colonies signed their names beneath the ‘self-evident truths’ in the Declaration of Independence.
‘All men,’ – that document said – ‘are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights’.
Now those words are beautiful, but as we know since then American history still reflected prejudice, segregation and separate, less equal life for millions of men and women.
So our Constitutional Recognition fundamental as it is, like the National Apology before it, must be about more than rhetoric.
Recognition must be more than redress for past wrongs.
Recognition cannot stand merely as an acknowledgement of historical injustice - it must be a declaration of intent, a driver of meaningful improvements.
Equality in our nation’s Constitution must inspire us to seek equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in every part of our national life: education, employment, justice and health.
Improving our performance in health is essential to meeting every other Closing the Gap target.
If you have problems with your health, you cannot work.
If your children are sick, they will miss school.
And if illness forces you to slip through the cracks in education and employment – then the risk of crime and incarceration doubles and triples.
Rather than be daunted by the scale of the challenge before us, let us focus upon what works:
Addressing vision loss alone would close 11 per cent of the health gap.
Tackling smoking through preventative programs reduces rates of cancer and heart disease and it increases life expectancy.
The full implementation of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan is another vital step.
The plan was compiled in some significant part by my friend Warren Snowdon, was developed in partnership with Aboriginal people, shaped by the voices of local people and local providers.
This is the best way forward, it is the only way forward – build the partnerships, trust the community, listen to people that know and live this great shared endeavour.
31 years ago, Lowitja said: “Together we can build a remarkable country, the envy of the rest of the world”.
This still holds true.
Let us face the national tests of Recognition and Closing the Gap with confidence and optimism, because like all of you I believe that when we work together, there is nothing we cannot achieve.
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